Thelma Ham Hayward’s mother always used to tell her that she never did anything like anyone else and at 99 years old, she has continued the trend.

Hayward, who resides at Tall Pines retirement facility in Belfast, has recently published a book, nearly 70 years after she first penned it. The woman will celebrate her 100th birthday Feb. 21.

The book, titled “Phosphorus of the Waves,” is the true story of Hayward’s experience in southern France in 1939 and 1940.

“Phosphorus breaks in a big storm and then is rejoined, but it doesn’t get destroyed,” Hayward said. “This is a story of human lives that do not get destroyed. A broken life restored.”

In the late 1930s, Hayward, who was 29 years old at the time and a French teacher, decided to travel to France to learn the culture.

“To be a good French teacher, you must know the people and know the country,” she said.

At the same time, the Spanish Civil War had recently ended and thousands of refugee women and children were crossing from Spain into France seeking a safe haven. And rumors of a new war, which ultimately was World War II, were circulating.

Hayward ended up helping to run a refugee colony for victims of the Spanish Civil War who were separated from their families. Some of the children who came to the colony were all alone, with no parents and no identity, she said. The woman spent about a year working at the colony.

Hayward said the experience changed her life forever and she made a promise to the children when she left that she would send help from America.

“I left those children with my heart breaking,” she said.

Ultimately, she was unable to keep her promise of sending aid, but she is fulfilling that promise by telling their stories now, she said. The book is full of stories from the colony, about child immigration and bureaucracy in France at that time.

Hayward finished writing the story in 1942 and had a publisher interested at that time in printing her book, but after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he told her no one would be interested in a story about Spanish Civil War refugees in France, she said.

The woman said looking back on the experience that she considered herself an unofficial diplomat for the United States in France. In the midst of hatred, she said, she was able to break down barriers.

“You have to be understanding of other people and have them see the other side,” she said.

Hayward grew up in Maine, with her first memories as a child in Bayside. She graduated from Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, and then earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Maine in Orono and a master’s degree at Middlebury College French School.

During her career as a French teacher, Hayward taught in Natick and Wellesley, Mass., and at various high schools in Maine, including Falmouth High School and Thornton Academy in Saco.

Eventually, Hayward moved back to the Belfast area, where she purchased and renovated the home she grew up in. Later in life, Hayward was married, but never had any children of her own.

“I never did things like other people,” Hayward said. “And I didn’t publish this [book] like other people.”

“Phosphorus of the Waves,” can be purchased at The Fertile Mind Bookshop in Belfast.

VillageSoup Reporter Kim Lincoln can be reached at 338-3333 or by e-mail at klincoln@villagesoup.com